Abbas freezes social security law after months of protests
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Abbas freezes social security law after months of protests

Palestinian leader orders talks with unions and others continue amid fears PA-created institution can’t be trusted with workers’ money

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinians protest against a government tax hike in Ramallah, West Bank, December 12, 2018. The blue gloves are a unifying symbol for the protesters, compared to the yellow vests worn by protesters in recent demonstrations in France. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Palestinians protest against a government tax hike in Ramallah, West Bank, December 12, 2018. The blue gloves are a unifying symbol for the protesters, compared to the yellow vests worn by protesters in recent demonstrations in France. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a freeze on the implementation of a new social security law after months of protests against it.

Abbas announced the move late Monday, responding to demonstrators who had taken to the streets for months amid mass anger over the law, saying they did not trust Palestinian bureaucrats to manage their money.

The PA began implementing the law on January 15, requiring some business owners and their employees to pay part of their monthly salaries to the Palestinian Social Security Institution, which the legislation created.

The Ramallah-based government had planned to mandate the rest of the Palestinian private sector to make payments to the body at later dates.

In return for making at least 180 payments, the now-frozen version of the law said the Social Security Institution would deliver pensions to Palestinians in the private sector who have reached the age of 60.

It also said the institution would provide workplace injury insurance and maternity benefits to Palestinians in the private sector.

“The president of the State of Palestine decided to stop the implementation of the law…regarding social security and its amendments,” Abbas’s order read. “The dialogue between all relevant parties will continue in order to achieve a national consensus about the law and its implementation date.”

In recent weeks, PA government ministers have said they were holding a dialogue with union leaders, experts and others about amending the social security law.

Abbas’s decision to halt the law’s implementation came a day after the Fatah Central Committee recommended freezing it for a limited period of time.

In this photo taken on November 11, 2018, PA President Mahmoud Abbas gives a speech after laying a wreath at the tomb of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat inside the Mukataa compound, in the the West Bank city of Ramallah. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The PA government said on Tuesday that it would abide by Abbas’ decision.

Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization officials have praised Abbas for his decision. PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani called the move “wise,” according to a statement published on the official PA news site Wafa on Monday.

For the past several months, protests against the Social Security Institution have taken place in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and other parts of the West Bank, with several Palestinians demonstrating for the first time in their lives.

Protesters have said they do not trust a PA-created institution to handle their money.

“Everyone here wants a social security system, but with rampant corruption in our government we cannot trust an institution created by it,” 30-year-old Nidal Quran, a teacher, said on the sidelines of a December protest in Ramallah. “What if the government one day takes our money we give to the institution to deal with what it says is a financial crisis?”

An overwhelming majority of Palestinians view PA institutions as corrupt, according to polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR).

For some 15 years, the PA has attempted to establish a social security institution.

In 2003, the Ramallah-based body passed a law to establish a social security body, but following international criticisms about its sustainability, the PA canceled it.

The PA subsequently sought the assistance of the International Labor Organization, foreign governments and other international bodies to write a new law. After years of consultations, in late 2016, Abbas signed the law, whose implementation he just suspended.

Many protesters have also expressed concerns about making ends meet without part of their monthly salary.

“I hardly have enough money to make it through each month,” Nader Qusa, a 42-year-old businessman, said on the margins of the protest in Ramallah. “I already cannot afford all of my expenses. The last thing I want to do is give away more of my salary.”

The now-halted law said business owners would be required to pay 10.9 percent of the first NIS 14,500 ($4,000) of their monthly salaries to the body and employees would be obliged to contribute 7.2 percent.

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